Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 18, 2021
Gambling vs. Investing

I live in Belgium. As a consequence of that, there are certain games in which I am barred from buying loot boxes, as these are considered as illegal gambling here. On the other hand, there are absolutely no laws over here that would prevent me from buying Bitcoin, or shares of Gamestop. So I guess that some people are not very clear about what the difference between gambling and investing is.

Investing has to do with forecasting the future value of an asset. You might argue that nobody can foresee the future. But to some extent you can make intelligent forecasts based on current events. For example Amazon shares were at $1785 on March 13, 2020, when the first COVID wave started to move markets. If you had been clever at that point in time and made the link between people in lockdown and online shopping, you could have doubled your money in a few months. That would have been a better investment than let's say in a company running cruise ships. And the evolution of these share prices wasn't totally random, there are real world factors underlying it.

In gambling, you just rely on luck. Like the content of loot boxes, the future value of Bitcoin or meme stocks has very little to do with real world values. If a tweet from Elon Musk can wipe out your assets, you are involved in gambling, not investing. The directors of Gamestop are selling their shares, because they know that the current market capitalization of 16 B$ massively overvalues the real world value of their company.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be gambling. The future value of things like Bitcoin or Gamestop shares is based on irrational factors, and yes, that means you could be making money that way. Or you could lose your shirt. Personally I am not much of a gambler, and the few times in my life where I felt like gambling I preferred casinos to cryptocurrency. The "gambling-like" assets you can buy tend to be more volatile than shares in brick-and-mortar companies. There is currently a not insignificant risk that these assets will take a massive hit if inflation turns out to be less temporary than the Fed claims. But they could also double in value next month for no real reason.

The important thing is that you realize what you are doing, gambling or investing. Are you risking money you can afford to lose? Or is it the difference between spending your retirement in comfort vs. having to work as a greeter in Walmart for minimum salary until you're 80? The reasonable thing to do is to invest the money you rely upon for your future more conservatively, and gamble only less significant amounts of money. With the money you'd be happy to buy loot boxes for, you might as well buy Bitcoin.

> The important thing is that you realize
> what you are doing, gambling or investing.

That's exactly why loot boxes in video games work: because most people are unable to realize what they're doing. Most of them will tell you "I want to support the company!" but that's being naïve and delusional. They simply have a form of compulsion and they can't avoid spending money over and over. Companies prey on those customers and any form of paid gambling should be banned from the videogaming world, in my opinion.
I'm not sure gambling is even the issue. I play Marvel Puzzle Quest and while there are some random tokens involved, the big packages made for whales are just terrible value all round, unless you really have a lot of money (and even then, you are literally paying to take some of the game away).

It is the illusion of progress, the inability to assess value, a societal compulsion to feel better by spending, and I suppose, an effort to maintain the value of better-value packages for more canny spenders.. all these things more than gambling, IMO.

(MPQ is actually pretty non-predatory, unless you go out of your way to be a delicious whale...)
I do feel that almost no-one ever addresses the other huge attraction of loot boxes. The discussion is always around the people who want a specific thing and end up buying many, many loot boxes in the hope of getting that one thing to drop. I never want any specific thing in a video game that much. I barely ever want any specific thing in real life that much. I have never and would never buy multiple loot boxes to get one specific thing.

Yes, if you are bying loot boxes to get a specific thing you are gambling and you should realize that. If, however, you're happy to have whatever happens to be inside the lootbox you open, you aren't gambling, any more than you're gambling when you stick your hand in a bran tub at a village fete. You're just allowing yourself a small frisson of excitement as you wonder just what it is you might get. That's why explorer archetypes are more likely to have postive feelings about rng in general. It's the thrill of the unexpected.
It kind of depends on what the minimum content of a loot box is. In World of Tanks, every $2 loot box contains *at least* $2 worth of gold, so your worst case scenario is getting as much gold as you would have if you had spent the money directly on gold. And if you are not extremely unlucky, you get more than that, and even a rare tank if you are lucky.

Trading card game boosters usually have a given distribution of rare, uncommon, common. You might get a "bad" rare, but at least you are sure to get a rare.

In the more predatory games, you can buy several loot boxes and get absolutely nothing of value, because the minimum content is totally worthless.
Years ago the best loot/reward/trophy usually came in two ways: pure luck (random loot) or focused grind/craft (which could require a long time too). In one way or another, you still needed to play the game.

Modern gamers want to get everything in a short amount of time. The most common excuse/reason is "I have no time to play so I pay for item X instead of wasting my time, which is worth X dollars per hour". Which often translates into "If my job pays me $100/h, grinding a Golden Axe of Hell for 10 hours would be equivalent to spending $1000". Which makes no sense at all.

In my opinion, the reason behind spending money for ingame benefits is always the same: laziness. Pure and simple. Gamers don't have patience anymore. They want THAT item, THAT upgrade, THAT skin, THAT reward. Then want to be competitive without investing too much time (and sometimes they still waste their day, on top of spending insane amounts of money).
GameStop, right? I am not sure you can invest in Gamespot.
Right. Fixed. Thanks.
@Rugus you're descibing the company line, shilling for their marketing team. The correct analysis is like this: years ago games were designed with long grinds to insure that you played longer and therefore paid the monthly fees they charged for subscription access. In these days, games came in two varieties: stand-along one-purchase products (potentally with one or two DLCs, which were new and controversial for their time), but the idea that people would pay real money for virutal goods of no value was an uncertainty back then. An armored horse in TES: Oblivion almost broke the internet at one point. But it broke gamers wills, instead.

Modern gamers, captive as an audience, have now been conditioned over time to purchase these worthless in-game commodities in order to get an experience that was once implicitly assumed to be part of the product you paid a single cost for, then later dolled out slowly to incur more subscription fees. Now they bypass subscription fees and charge much more for basic things like avatar skins and shiny color designs on weapons. This is not the fault of the gamer, it is the fault of a market which has, left largely unregulated, learned how to predate upon their customers with willful shamelessness while in turn blaming those customers for being genetically human.
@ Doctor

> years ago games were designed with long grinds to insure that
> you played longer and therefore paid the monthly fees they
> charged for subscription access.

By "years ago" I meant a well before any subscription model. Games such as Populous, Sim City, Eye of the Beholder, It came from the desert, etc. You had to pay for the full product and then you either had the patience to play it or... Not. End of story. There was no way to be "the best" by buying coins, weapons, skins, whatever.
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